Tuesday, 4 October 2011

‘Orcs: Forged For War’ – Stan Nicholls & Joe Flood (First Second)

It was about ten years ago (a time when I didn’t know that the internet existed outside of Amazon...) that I read Stan Nicholls’ first ‘Orcs’ trilogy and was underwhelmed enough not to go back and read the second trilogy when that was released a little more recently. You’re going to cut me a little slack as far as remembering what it was that irked me about these books; really, just count yourself lucky that I can remember books that I read ten years ago! All I have is a feeling of dissatisfaction that has travelled down the years and put in an appearance when I opened a package, at the weekend, to find that the world of ‘Orcs’ has returned in graphic novel format.

Now, I do try to be as fair as I can in situations like this and give books a fair go. So I didn’t enjoy the first trilogy? I never read the second trilogy so who’s to say that things haven’t improved in the meantime? If you can’t remember why you didn’t enjoy the original books in the first place then don’t take it out on the new book! And... It’s a comic book for goodness sake; you literally cannot go wrong with reading a comic book in the sun at the weekend.
Well, I gave ‘Forged For War’ a go and was reminded only too well about what it was that turned me off the books in the first place. At the same time though, ‘Forged For War’ made for a nice weekend read in the sun...

The world of Maras-Dantia is a world at war and the peerless Orcs are the grunts stuck on the front lines, fighting for masters who really don’t care if they live or die. The Orc Stryke heads up the ‘Wolverines’, a band of fighters whose reputation in the field often means that they are volunteered for the most dangerous jobs going. In the face of what they have done before, escorting a group of Goblins (looking to test a dangerous new weapon) doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Stryke’s soldiers are used to obeying orders but when the secrecy surrounding this mission might just be hiding something else... All the Wolverines can rely on are the swords that they hold and the Orc stood beside them.

Secret missions are great aren’t they? No-one knows what is going on and anything could happen in the meantime... Except here. You may not know what’s going to happen but you know exactly how it’s going to end up as Nicholls make it clear very early on that betrayal is the order of the day and the hammer is going to fall hardest on Stryke’s men (I mean Orcs, sorry...) Once I knew what was going on I found myself waiting for the ‘big reveal’ and the surprise, just vanished; especially when Nicholls made it clear who was going to be betraying who... This kind of transparency was what annoyed me when I read Nicholls’ books the last time.

What ‘Forged For War’ does have going in it’s favour though is the sheer energy of it’s plot and protagonists. It didn’t quite work for me but what this energy does do is power things along so that you only notice the large jolt in the plot as a minor bump. Nicholls is happy to throw his characters up against... well, pretty much everything really and while the outcome is never in any doubt watching Orcs face off against everything else makes for some exciting reading (especially the last few pages).

Nicholls does well to achieve this through his writing but Joe Flood’s art plays no small part in the end result. I’ll admit that, in the early stages of the book, I thought that Flood’s art was quite basic (and a mean part of me thought, ‘just like the plot...’)
As the pages went by though it became clear that what Flood’s art may lack in detail is more than made up for by his concentrating on the savagery and raw brutality of the Orcs and what they must face. Flood leaves you in no doubt, with some powerful imagery, just what war in Maras-Dantia can be like and that ended up being a large part of what kept me reading.

‘Forged For War’ comes before the main storyline so can be read by anyone who hasn’t read the books themselves; I think it goes without saying that fans will enjoy it the most though.
As far as I was concerned, it was a fun read but Nicholls very nearly robbed me of the main reason to stick with it. Things balanced out though, the story may be a little too linear and obvious for me but its energy carried me along smoothly. Like I said, a good books to read in the sun.

Eight out of Ten

1 comment:

Xenophon said...

Media transition can do good or ill for a work. Bad books sometimes make good comics. Or as we have seen a slew of lately, great graphic novels can inspire horrible movies...

Never encountered "Orcs: Forged for War before", but in any format it doesn't look too promising.